Now that it's assembled in South Carolina, the 2011 BMW X3 is a newly minted citizen, and clearly, it went overboard studying for its naturalization exams. The formula for success: Make it bigger, make it faster, make it richer—but don't make it too off-roady. The new X3 ticks all those boxes, from its low-profile tires to its gently curved roof. It's grown in almost every dimension, and gained a great new interior with more second-row seat room. (It's almost the size of the original X5, now.) It looks fantastic, inside and out. The 2011 X3 doesn't need much explanation in its differences and distinctions from the outgoing model. It's visibly, physically larger, and it's much more attractive in a car-like way. Forget the trending to rugged, blocky SUV shapes you've seen at other brands, on other vehicles—the X3 swoops it up now with a character line delivered like the same cues on a 3-Series wagon.
The X3's interior, as well, will convince you that this crossover's an acceptable substitute for the rear-drive glory that the turbo 3-Series sedans muster. The dash arcs to envelop controls and angles them at the driver, adding to the more sedan-like air surrounding the new SUV. Whether it's the big, clear dials in the instrument pod, the simplified audio and climate switches, or even the off-centered iDrive controller, the X3's cabin seems more rested and at ease with its mission.
BMW says it's paid special attention to upgrading the interior materials, too, and it's immediately obvious. Tough textures have gone soft, in the proper ways. A large LCD screen links into the connected-driving zeitgeist, and there's a head-up display on offer that projects all the information essential to driving in a discreet section of the windshield.
In the U.S., BMW is offering the 2011 X3 with a choice of two six-cylinder engines. The base X3 xDrive28i is normally aspirated, and churns out 240 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque, while the 35i gets a 300-hp turbocharged six capable of getting to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. That's nearly as quick as the 3-Series sedan, not to mention a few generations of M3 derivatives. The sole transmission this time around in the X3 is an eight-speed automatic, but it includes paddle-shifters.
Although mild off-roading isn't completely off the 2011 BMW X3's roster of capabilities, the road is still the priority. All X3 models come with BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system, which can flex to send 100 percent of available power to either end of the vehicle. More electronics bedazzle the suspension and steering, but in the 2011 X3 they've been configured to encourage set-and-forget driving. It's still classic MacPherson strut and multi-link rear suspensions, with electronic shocks grafted on and tailored with a Driving Dynamics Control switch located near the gearshift lever. The steering feel could use more fiddling, as it builds up cornering feel even during lower-speed turns and lane changes but doesn't unwind with much feel or linearity.
Upsizing pays off inside the 2011 BMW X3. It's nearly 3.4 inches longer overall, 1.1 inches wider, sits 0.5 inches taller and has that same numeric increase in ground clearance. Much of the added length is made available in the rear seats, where the X3 has been mid-pack with other luxury utes like the Cadillac SRX, Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class. There's soaring headroom all around, and behind the front seats, nice rectangular nacelles that might even fit a pair of size-13 feet.
Safety features include all the usual airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability systems. In Sport mode, drivers of a navigation-and-iDrive-equipped X3 can customize that Sport mode for differing levels of stability control.
A revamped features list shows, indirectly, some of the cost benefits of bringing the X3 in to the American family. A big, bright 8.8-inch LCD screen looms front and center on navigation-equipped vehicles. Leather seating, a big panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate controls and a full iPod integration kit are available, many of them to be made standard on the turbocharged version, though final specs are yet to come.
A revamped feature list shows, indirectly, some of the cost benefits of bringing the 2011 BMW X3 in to the American family. Prices for the 2011 X3 are in alignment with the rest of the class, yet BMW is less stingy with standard features compared to some rival models. Automatic climate control, eight-way power seats, a basic iPod and USB adapter, Bluetooth, HD Radio, and a 205-watt, 12-speaker sound system are all included even in the base X3 xDrive28i model.